Canadian startup Sera4 enables its customers to implement entirely keyless physical access control solutions via Teleporte, its back-end cloud platform that virtually manages keys. With this technology, physical keys and internet connectivity are no longer required to access public locks, as Teleporte makes it easy to grant and revoke access at scale. It also helps businesses know who and when the access is given.
In an interview with DIGITIMES Asia, Sera4 CEO David Coode stated that the company grew by 40% last year (2022) and is entering the early stages of scale. The company has been able to expand its business to all continents (even Antarctica), with a particularly significant business in Latin America and a developing business in Africa. Now, the company is ready to bring this experience into the Asian market.
Sera4 was founded in 2014 and is based out of Ontario, Canada. According to Coode, the company's founder, Jerod Klink, was previously the manager of the Wi-Fi team for Blackberry's handheld business. After Blackberry left the sector, he took his technical experiences in making "secure, scalable, and reliable" wireless technology to the field of lock access, starting with the telecom market. The company's product portfolio has expanded to include physical products (padlocks and door controllers) and the Teleporte cloud platform.
Why keyless access?
The traditional method of granting access rights to someone involves handing over a physical object, be it a key, a fob, or an access card. While this gets the job done, it has some clear limits. For instance, the object needs to be physically handed over to grant access and then physically collected to revoke access. It can also get easily misplaced/stolen/duplicated.
Furthermore, for secured public locations like infrastructure for telecom, access needs to be restricted and keys need to be handled with care. However, tracking where the key is at each moment was nearly impossible with past methods. "You would give everyone the same key, the same code, the same access rights. You would never know who got in and when." Coode stated. The need to physically hand over a key can also be made further tasking in the case of infrastructure access since the locations can be rather remote.
What Sera4's technology does is that it automates the process and does so digitally via one comprehensive platform, Teleporte. Access keys will be digitally issued via Teleporte to its corresponding smartphone app. This process can be done automatically and to thousands of sites and contractors at once. The locks are opened via Bluetooth connection to the phone, so it would function even without a network connection. Once the work is done and access need to be revoked, Teleporte will do it automatically and all at once. It can also keep a log of who and when these access keys are issued.
Sera4's premise is based around the fact that everyone has a smartphone now, and as a society, we've reached a point where we're trusting computers and smartphone networks with much more sensitive information, e.g. money, than secured access to locks. There should no longer be a need to carry around a specific physical object just to get access to a secured location.
Coode also brought up a personal, more down-to-earth experience that showed how Sera4's technology can be appreciated even in smaller-scale applications. Sera4 had to move offices in the middle of the Covid pandemic. Because of the struggle to get components back then, they were unable to install their own system in the new office and had to resort to a card access system. Coode had several unfortunate instances because of this.
"I never appreciated our technology more because while I was the only one in the office (due to remote work), I locked myself out three times because I left my access card on my desk…" he stated. During these situations, he always had his phone with him. If their own technology was installed, he would've easily been able to avoid this situation.
An evolving product portfolio
One thing Sera4 is consistently doing is retooling and upgrading its product portfolio according to its customers' needs. The company started as a hardware company, producing only wireless access padlocks. When designing the padlocks, they initially wanted to use rechargeable batteries, but they found out that nobody wanted to charge a padlock in the middle of nowhere. Thus, they shifted to using changeable batteries that can last up to five years in all weather conditions. As with the charge port from the previous design, they kept it as a backup plan that allows access if the batteries died.
The padlock is a straightforward all-in-one solution that's suitable for many application scenarios. However, they are also many other scenarios where there's an existing electric lock. So, rather than creating hundreds of products to fit all the existing electric locks on the market, Sera4 made a small door controller module that records whether the lock is opened or closed. This info can then be transmitted to Teleporte, which can then wirelessly grant/revoke access to the lock via its smartphone app.
Throughout these processes, it became apparent to Sera4 that the true value of their technology lies in their cloud service platform Teleporte. However, maintaining such a platform is quite costly, as there is ongoing maintenance, security updates, updates to the latest phone models and standards, as well as an on-call service to handle issues like inability to access. Because of this, Sera4 evolved from being a hardware company to a cloud service company. In addition to selling physical locks and controllers, a subscription to access Teleporte became a part of its offering as well.
Coode stated that while the company is at the late stage of the startup phase, it still has flexibility in its business model. Clients can choose to have one massive upfront payment to cover several years of the service (Capex) or a smaller monthly subscription model (Opex). According to Coode, most of their customers prefer multi-year upfront payments, "they want to just set it and forget it."
The next step
Regarding the company's next step, Coode stated that CTA is the company's introduction to active business in Asia. The company has expanded to have a very significant business in Latin America, as well as a developing business in Africa. Some of their African business opportunities have transplanted themselves into Asia, leading to the company having businesses at scale in Myanmar and the Philippines. With how quickly these markets have adopted their technology and how much value is being generated, the company decided they should put some effort into developing themselves in the Asian market, hence this partnership with CTA.
As with Taiwan, Coode stated that Taiwan is a friendly and approachable market, with a very robust telecom infrastructure and a demand for infrastructure security. In addition, he personally has a background in semiconductors, meaning he has done a lot of business in Taiwan. This makes Taiwan a comfort area for him and a great place to launch themselves into the Asia market.
Photo: Sera4 CEO David Coode.